What’s Making America not-so-Great and Killing the Evangelical Church

      A few years ago I began writing a new manuscript. Thirty thousand words later and a two year sabbatical, I am once again reminded of the importance of sharing this message. So, below I have decided to share one of the chapters of this unfinished work with you, in hopes that God will speak to both you and me about the dangers of the Entitlement mentality. How often I forget to leave this door closed! Perhaps you can relate? It doesn’t take much effort to look around our world and our churches to see its nasty infiltration. Let’s pray that we, as a church and the bride of Christ, will come together–laying aside our expectations–and learn to be content with the peace of Jesus alone.

Excerpt from:

The Devil’s Alphabet: 25 Doors You Don’t Want to Open

CHAPTER THREE

Door #5: Entitlement

Counterfeit: easily offended, anger towards God, feeling as if we are owed something

            Truth: We have no rights, all our rights belong to God, we are not our own (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

The Origin of Entitlement

“For you said to yourself, ‘I will ascend to heaven and set my throne above God’s stars. I will preside on the mountain of the gods far away in the north. I will climb to the highest heavens and be like the Most High.’” Isaiah 14:13-14, NLT

Most of us have heard it said, “Satan’s downfall was his pride.” But I would challenge that statement. Opening the door of entitlement often leads to other doors, doors like pride. But pride begins with entitlement. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines entitlement as: “the condition of having a right to have, do, or get something; the feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something (such as special privileges).” Before pride, Satan saw something he wanted and decided he deserved what he saw. Satan saw God, His glory and His throne, and believed he deserved those things for himself. This entitlement mentality was the beginning of the end for Satan. It’s one of the things he used to tempt Eve as well; she doubted God’s word first, then began to believe she had a right to the knowledge God was clearly withholding from her. Whether we realize it or not, we stumble through this door more often than we think.

Entitlement Mentality with God

            Anger towards God, I think we’ve all experienced this at times. But what is the source of this anger? The source, more often than not, is an entitlement mentality. As Christians we tend to fall victim to thinking life is supposed to go a certain way because we’re obeying God. We’re promised blessings when we obey, right? While obedience to God is a promise of blessing, it is not a promise of good or pleasurable circumstances. The blessings we are promised aren’t necessarily material in nature (though they certainly can be). You’re going to read this repeatedly and I say it again now to continue to drive the point home: one of our greatest blessings is having a “peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). Peace has no price-tag, and those who have this peace know exactly what I’m talking about. The moment we start to believe God owes us something is the same moment our spiritual peace begins to erode because like it or not, our circumstances will not always be pleasant.

“Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into?” Romans 9:20-21, NLT

Those are difficult verses to swallow, especially if we’ve walked through the door of entitlement. It doesn’t help that there are an abundance of religious leaders today teaching and writing about things like health, wealth, and prosperity. This never ceases to amaze me. How can this teaching be so prominent when our Bible contains much of the opposite when it describes the lives of Christians? Look at Job! Look at Paul, John the Baptist, or pretty much anyone who followed the teachings of Jesus. They were persecuted, punished, tortured, and murdered because they followed God. Materially speaking, they were anything but prosperous. And while Job was wealthy, he also lost all of his wealth, health, and property; he even lost his entire family. None of his friends understood his suffering because of their own entitlement mentality. “Surely God only allows such horrors to befall the wicked, evil, and rebellious, not the righteous,” they reasoned. And the same thing happens in our lives. We suffer and our fellow Christians judge our spiritual lives because deep down they too believe good things are synonymous with obedience to God.

Sometimes life is great, we’re showered blessing upon blessing, good things raining down from the heavens abound. And other times it seems the only thing raining on us is hydrochloric acid; burning, painful, searing loss after loss. In either case, God owes us nothing. Certainly God wants to bless us, but it’s the spiritual, inner blessings He is focused on. It’s the transformation of us into the likeness of His Son that he knows will be our ultimate bliss.

As a mother, I strive to teach my daughter healthy eating habits, but that’s not easy with a young child who seems extraordinarily picky. Rest assured, when my daughter opens up her school lunch and sees fruits and vegetables, her reaction isn’t gratitude. ‘Round and ‘round we go fighting about it, but in the end she either eats the produce or goes hungry. She believes I am torturing her, but I know, as much as she dislikes it, that I’m doing the right thing for her body, growth, health, and development. I could let her eat artificial cheesy snacks and chocolate cookies every day, to show that I love her and care about her happiness, but a better way to show I love and care about her is to withhold those things from her, saving them as an occasional special treat. In fact, she appreciates those things a lot more when she doesn’t get them every day. Similarly, God wants to show us He loves us and cares for us, but His idea of love is far different (and greater) than ours. Our prayers sometimes sound like a six-year-old begging for cake; God hears those prayers, but many times chooses to answer with carrots and apples. When we have an entitlement mentality, the raw produce version of answered prayers or life circumstances will probably anger, baffle, and discourage us. When that is our reaction to the circumstances in our lives, we need to stop and ask God for a heart check, as we’ve likely walked through the door of entitlement.

Entitlement Mentality with People

            Let’s face it, God is God and He’s going to do and allow whatever He wants. For some of us that truth isn’t terribly difficult to accept. After all, He’s God and we’re not; but when it comes to other people, well now, that’s a different story. We expect others to forgive us, treat us with kindness, care about our hurts, ask us how we’re doing, sympathize and empathize with us, and basically fulfill our emotional needs in every way we were designed to get from Jesus. God forbid someone fail to meet our lofty expectation, that’s when our entitlement mentality rears its ugly head. We know we’ve walked through that door when we find ourselves easily offended, overly sensitive, resentful, bitter, gossipy, judgmental, and critical of others; basically an overall jerk of a Christian (those who knows me well are laughing right now, because they know I have struggled with all of these character flaws). Somewhere along the way, someone failed to meet our unspoken, assumed expectation, and that hurts, especially when we feel we’re entitled to a certain response or action from said person.

It’s Not All About Me (or You)

“I’ll never forget the day I decided to try a new church. Just months after being widowed, I had moved and was looking for a church that was similar to the one where my husband had been pastoring. That day, I had gone through the process of finding the place where my children would go during the service and after leaving them in the capable hands of the teachers, I walked to the sanctuary. As people were milling around, I waited for someone to introduce themselves to me…but no one did. With my heart pounding and my hands sweating, I realized just how alone I was. New situations hadn’t bothered me before, but that was because I normally had my husband at my side.

“When I found a seat, I half expected the people sitting next to me to turn their heads and acknowledge my presence, but they didn’t. Then, as the worship began, I found myself fighting back tears. When your late husband was an amazing worship leader, pretty much any song sung in church reminds you of him. And so there I stood, alone, in an unfamiliar church, choking back tears. For a moment I was embarrassed because I felt I was making a scene. But that moment of embarrassment vanished when I realized my sorrow had gone unseen. For a while, that day really bothered me. How could those people be so self-focused that they didn’t even notice me? I felt invisible. I felt as if no one cared.”

Wow, that’s rough! Certainly my friend here had every right to be upset over the situation. I know I’ve experienced something eerily similar in many church settings, and I’m sure you have too. Unfortunately, it’s easy to walk in with expectations of how we are to be treated; failing to see that perhaps others have the same expectations of us. Before you know it, we’re all ticked off and offended with each other. Fortunately, God used the situation to speak to my friend about her own attitude, rather than the attitude of everyone around her (He has a way of doing that to us, doesn’t He?).

“Months later, as the intensity of my grief wore off I have come to see something. It’s not the people around me who have become more self-focused during my trials—it’s me. And honestly, at times I’m the most self-focused person I know. I had walked into that church feeling as if everyone should notice me. I stood during worship and had the audacity to think that the people gathered there would be looking at me instead of worshipping God.

“If I have learned only one thing the past few years, it’s that life isn’t all about me. And much like this memory shows, church isn’t all about me.”

It’s not all about me and it’s not all about you. The sooner we accept that truth the happier we will be. In a perfect world maybe our expectations of others would be met more often, but we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a world full of difficult and unfair circumstances. One of the keys to living a more peaceful, less frustrated life, is to give our expectations to God, and leave our assumptions behind the closed door of entitlement. We’re going to be hurt and disappointed by people, because we’re all self-centered, sinful human beings, it’s a fact of life. We don’t appreciate it when others make assumptions about us and our motives, so it shouldn’t be a shocker that we need to treat others the same way we’d like to be treated—with grace.

Truth Encounter

            The door of entitlement is a tough one, one the Devil will place in our path time and time again. It’s what got him in trouble and what has plagued humanity from the beginning of time. The best defense is to get out of denial and admit we have a problem with this self-centered way of dealing with people and God. The following prayer can be used to help you refocus on the truth, and reject this door of entitlement. No matter what words you use to express your heart to God, say them out loud so the Devil can hear you and flee.

“Jesus, I know I’ve often walked through the door of entitlement, becoming bitter, resentful, angry, or offended with you or others over my unmet expectations. I now choose to give all of those expectations to you (take a moment to think about and name specific situations where you were hurt or offended by someone, or angry at God for allowing a situation into your life); my expectations of how others should act, my expectations of how you should answer my prayers, and my expectations of how I think my life should go when I am living to please you. In the name of Jesus I choose to reject the lie that I am entitled to anything, and accept the truth that it is only because of your grace I am even breathing at this very moment. I am not my own, but have been bought with the price of Jesus’ blood. Teach me how to bring glory to you through my attitude, and by showing grace to others as you have shown me grace. Thank you for freeing me from the bondage of entitlement. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

 

 

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The Plank and the Speck–BE the Change: CHOICES {Part 3}

“How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”—Matthew 7:4-5, NIV

Possibly one of the greatest challenges I’ve faced in my spiritual walk has been living in an “unequally yoked” marriage. The constant pull between personal convictions and trying to live in peace with my spouse has often been an excruciatingly intense struggle. These days, though, there are far more rainbows and roses in our relationship than storm clouds, but it took many years and a lot of personal soul-searching to finally reach that point.

 
I’m often asked by other women in difficult marriage situations (not speaking about abusive relationships, here) who wonder how I’ve come to be so at peace in my marriage, or how I cope with the challenges rather than throw in the towel. My response to them is not generally well tolerated. And most of these women who once wanted advice from me are now no longer speaking to me. So what have I said and done to tick so many people off?

 
I chose to focus on ME, repeatedly asking God to change my own heart, rather than that of my husband.

 
Novel concept, I know!

 
That’s not to say I always did so willingly or joyfully, but rather out of sheer necessity. When I first “came back” to God, I constantly prayed for my husband’s heart to change. Of course I wanted him to love Jesus and all that jazz, but my deeper motive in prayer wasn’t his spiritual life but rather my own comfort and happiness.

 

 

“When you ask you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasure.”—James 4:3, NIV

This is where many spouses are brought to the end of their rope, and what motivates them to try to find help or counsel, their lives have become a leaky faucet of misery as their focus is continuously on the wrong-doings of their significant other. I get it because I’ve been there! In my situation, raising a child in a home where my husband and I disagreed on so much was just plain hard. And if God changed my husband’s heart (to agree with me about everything, of course, and to pick up his dirty socks…) then my life would certainly be much more pleasant and stress-free.

 
But, God being, well, GOD, knew my motives were off. And instead of instantly “poofing” my husband into everything I wanted him to be, He instead chiseled my heart into the ever-changing diamond He is designing it to be. And that whole chiseling thing hurts. A lot. Because it reveals my planks, logs, beams, or whatever you want to call them, instead of the specks, splinters, or otherwise tiny dust particles in my husband (who IS a believer now, but still leaves his dirty socks on the floor. In fact, I’m looking at them right now…).

 
At first I too was a woman who scoffed at the notion that I needed to change instead of my husband. I hated that kind of advice with a passion. One instance I remember in particular was a valued and trusted friend encouraging me to be more intentional about sex with my husband. The nerve! Easy for her to say, she was in a peaceful happy marriage! But for me, sex was typically the last thing on my mind because I was too butt-hurt over all the horrible things my spouse did (things that don’t seem so horrible now, in hindsight). But you know what? She was right! And choosing to be intentional about our sex life before I actually “felt like it” (you know, choosing to show love with actions instead of waiting for my emotions to “feel” like doing loving things) helped our marriage more than the nagging or resentment ever did. The point is, my behavior needed to change first, before my emotions would follow.

 
So, when a woman comes to me and complains how selfish and awful her husband is (again, not talking about abusive relationships!) and I gently try to share my journey of personal transformation rather than justifying her complaints, she usually gets upset with me and seeks advice elsewhere. But I can’t in good conscience sit here and join the spousal bashing. We are in far more control over our happiness and joy than we think. It really is a choice. A choice that is rooted in desiring change within ourselves, and doing whatever it takes to let God work that out—instead of focusing on all the wrongs being committed against us.

 
Ultimately God helped me see that the only change I can control is the change in my own heart. So, over time my prayers changed from grumbles against my husband to repentance against the sins I was committing against him with my attitudes and behaviors. I sought to treat my husband as I wanted to be treated, whether or not I felt like he “deserved” it. This often meant embracing the role of “servant” (not in a slave kind of way, but in an acts-of-service-to-others kind of way). God repeatedly brought me to 1 Peter 3, and the need to show my husband with my actions rather than my preaching (nagging, Bible-thumping, etc.).

 
Is your spouse inconsiderate or selfish? Do they hold to different faith perspectives than you? Do they act in ways that disappoint and discourage you? My best advice is to serve your spouse in love, and ask God to see your spouse through HIS eyes rather than your own. This prayer is what opened the door of change in my own heart. In fact, asking God to see my husband through His eyes is what allowed me to finally see how the choices I had made out of anger or resentment had so deeply hurt him (see: Waiting for Redemption). Yes, I suppose it would be easier to just call it quits and throw in the towel. Sign some papers and wipe your hands of the whole thing. Find some other guy/gal who makes you “happier” and agrees with you about everything, but ultimately, those aren’t the solutions that will bring lasting peace and joy because the root issues (within yourself) aren’t dealt with, but rather denied and ignored. God wants to change us first, so that our life can be a witness to motivate change in others.

 
Whether we are dealing with a spousal relationship or another type of relationship (familial, friendship, coworker) the principle still applies: choose to ask God to change your heart instead of focusing on how you are being wronged. Choose to forgive. Choose to serve that person instead of gossiping about them. Choose to pray for a new perspective. Choose to ask God to help you love the person as God loves them.

 
Is everything perfect, now that my husband sits next to me at church every Sunday he’s not working, or now that he’s bought me more flowers in the last nine months than in the previous nine years? Of course not! If anything, I have come to see that no matter how “great” my husband is, and how much he “changes” still has little effect on my happiness, peace and joy. Why? Because my happiness, peace, and joy come from JESUS, not life’s circumstances. Certainly things are more peaceful around here, but my husband is still the same person with the same personality and quirks. Being a Christian doesn’t necessarily mean he picks up his socks consistently. I still have a choice every day whether or not I will serve, love, and respect my husband or nag, resent, and slander his character to my girlfriends. Sometimes I still choose the latter, but those instances are coming fewer and farther between as God continues to transform my heart to align more with the character of Christ. By choosing to BE the change instead of nagging for him to change, God has brought about peace within me and within our marriage. And, as an added bonus (blessing) I now get to enjoy things like going to church with my husband instead of going alone.

 
So, if you really want that person to get the splinter out of their eye so your life will be a little less stressful, I suggest asking God to remove the beam in your eye first. Be the example of change with your life, attitudes, reactions, responses, and actions. How you choose to behave/respond while under adversity will speak far greater volumes to the “problem person” in your life than begging God to change that person or nagging them into behaving how you’d like them to. Choose respect, forgiveness, mercy, service, and the greatest of these things, LOVE. Ask God to transform your heart into a 1 Corinthians 13 heart. It WILL hurt, and it WON’T be easy, but the peace that results will far surpass the temporary pain that comes from sacrifice, submission, and developing a life of humility before others.

 

 

 

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”—Matthew 5:5-9, NIV

***PLEASE NOTE: This article is NOT referencing marriages where adultery, pornography use, physical or emotional abuse, or other more serious offenses have occurred. This is not in any way representative of such deeper struggles and is not intended to brush those issues under the rug or blame those behaviors on the victim. We are each responsible only for our own choices and responses, not the choices of others! If you are in an abusive relationship, or have a spouse immersed in pornography or sexual sin, please seek the help of a professional. Your spouse’s choices are not your fault or because of anything you have done to “deserve” such treatment. You are not responsible for their actions/choices.

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See also CHOICES PART 1: Freedom to Choose

CHOICES PART 2: Careful, that Fence Could Give You a Massive Wedgie
I will be continuing this series on choices in much greater detail, if you haven’t already, please enter your email under the “Follow” tab to receive new posts in your inbox. No spam! Just new posts, (usually two to four posts a month at most). If you found this website to be of encouragement to you, please share it with your friends!

 

**If you are struggling in an unequally yoked marriage, and need resources for reading or help, please email me at RebeccaAarup@mail.com and I would be happy to share some books/resources that have helped me greatly along my journey.**

Careful, that Fence Could Give You a Massive Wedgie: CHOICES {Part 2}

Surely God understood my plight, after all, He knew my heart, He knew our financial situation, He knew we wanted to get married—eventually, so did it really matter that we were living and sleeping together at this point? I mean, we’d been sleeping in the same bed for a couple of years by this time, we even had a child together, it’s not like we had much to “save” ourselves for.

 
It was quite the dilemma. I had recently “come back” to God, after nearly a decade of “debauchery” and rebellion. Our situation wasn’t the greatest, either; we had a new baby, debt out of our eyeballs (tens of thousands of which I hauled along from my first marriage), we lived in a roach-infested apartment, had to spend oodles of money on special formula for our daughter who had digestive issues…it wasn’t the most “fun” we’d had in our relationship.

 
Many times I prayed—begged—God to help us. I was sorry, so sorry for the mess I had made of my life. Please, God, please help us, I want to do what’s right. But rather than answer that request, God began to convict me. He started with the “big” things and immediately my dedication to obedience was tested. I wrestled with the issue for a little while, even calling my dad (who had been a Pastor) to ask his advice, I remember reasoning with him, “We’ve had sex so many times, I mean, we have a kid together! God knows my heart, He knows how I want to do the right thing, but we just don’t have the money for a wedding. What would you tell someone in this situation, if you were counseling them?” He sympathized with me, but still told it like it was. The Bible was clear about sex outside of marriage. It was simply not acceptable, and God would not bless me with peace, and other spiritual blessings, until I was obedient.

 
Keep in mind, at the time I chose to come back to God (or rather, develop a new relationship with Him), my husband was not what you’d consider a man of faith, nor did he care to be. So, you can see how tricky this situation was. But I knew what needed to happen. I informed him that I would have to sleep in a separate room, and we could no longer have sex until we were married. As you can well imagine, the response wasn’t super great.

 
Ultimately, my husband (still “fiancé” at the time) respected my faith and that I wanted to change, so he complied without too much of a fight. Of course, it wasn’t long before we found a way to get married. Six days after our daughters first birthday, a deacon from the tiny Baptist church next to our apartment married us and signed our marriage license, with the mandatory two witnesses in our presence (thanks Mom). The peace I felt once we were officially married can’t be described. It’s the kind of peace you experience when you know you’re walking in God’s will. It was a difficult choice to make, and I had plenty of good reasons (excuses) as to why I shouldn’t obey what I knew was right, but in the end, the desire to walk with God and be at peace won over my physical desires.

 
I can’t emphasize enough just how difficult it is to make the right choice, to follow God’s word, to be “sold out”, recklessly abandoned to Him and His will—it’s not an easy path. The above example is only one of many difficult things God required of me in order to walk in His will. After all, He was taking me from the “world” and re-shaping my thought life one thing at a time, which of course, systematically changed my behavior. This brought about new challenges, especially within my marriage. We were “unequally yoked” now, and our worldviews were significantly different. Each choice I made was not only about my desire to obey God’s word, but also my desire to show my husband that the change in my heart was real, not a “phase” that would pass like so many others (I had previously tried out a Jehovah’s Witness church as well as Wiccan practices…I was searching for something to fill a void only God could fill!). I wanted to live the kind of life and have the type of attitude that was attractive to my husband. It didn’t happen overnight, it took many years of trial and error—but mostly prayer for God to continue to change me (not my husband).

 
In this entire journey, one thing was not an option for me—fence-sitting. I had seen plenty of that growing up, Christians who behaved one way on Sunday but lived an entirely different life Monday through Saturday. I never understood it. Many of these people were quick to judge the lives and choices of others, while failing to see their own issues for what they were. They believed themselves to be “sold out” God-fearing Christians when, in fact, they were nothing more than Pharisees.

 
On the other hand were the “worldly” Christians. They were the ones that looked, talked, and acted like everyone else. There was no noticeable difference in them, other than the fact that they went to church. They could say all the right words, teach Sunday School, quote the verses, and dress the part, but on a day to day basis, God was nowhere to be found. One foot in the world, the other in the church. That was not the Christianity I was “returning” to. So repeatedly I found myself praying in earnest that God would teach me how to love Him with my whole heart.

 
It was during this time God led me to Psalm 119, and I began writing my thoughts (which eventually turned into a short published  Bible study). I wanted the words of that Psalm to be true in my life, so I dedicated over a year to studying it, which served to completely change my heart in ways I never thought possible. Still though, God is not “done” with me. Every time I ask him to cleanse my heart or show me where I need “work” He reveals more. I am thankful He doesn’t show me all the crud in my heart at once, but gently works on me one small step at a time. Some days I choose to follow, and some days I sit on the fence. Sometimes I’m on the fence so long, the painful realty of the spiritual wedgie drives me to one side or the other. Ultimately I just can’t go the other way again because it led to nothing but heartache and pain, and a complete lack of peace and purpose. So, I fall back over the side of Truth and dust myself off and try again.

 
I’m convinced that this “fence-sitting” is an epidemic in the Church today, that and the judgmental segment of Pharisees that are certain everyone except for them are going to hell. Both extremes are equally damaging and have only helped the church look like more of a joke than anything. We need to choose this day who we will serve, but for goodness’ sake, stick with whatever we choice we make instead of oscillating back and forth. Either we’re for God or against Him; either we’re willing to follow Him at all cost, or we need to jump back over to the other side of the fence and abandon our faith, ’cause this fence-sitting crap has got to stop.

 
One of my husband’s chief complaints about Christians (and why he didn’t want to go to church) was how much they “judge” everyone while failing to see their own faults. Or, that they were quick to preach about “heaven” while living like the “devil”. We actually experienced people close to us falling into this category. They would go to church on Sunday and drink and party Friday nights. There was an enormous disconnect from what they said they believed to how they actually lived. These same people were extremely bitter towards God for the hardships He allowed in their lives. Yet, they were never willing to “forsake” the world and cling to Him 100%. This type of thing is killing Christianity, seriously, (our persistent fence-sitting could even be the very thing that keeps someone from coming to Christ!); regrettably, I have been guilty of both extremes.

 
I’m not saying that obedience to God automatically results in perfect circumstances and material blessings. Not at all. In fact, I think I showed with an example from my own life that making the right choice is often much more difficult and can even result in conflict or loss. But choosing the “hard” path of a life completely (like, actually 100%) is much more rewarding both here and after our lives have ended. We shouldn’t ride the fence and then whine about how God isn’t blessing us. He wants to bless us, but He will not reward our complacency and indifference to His word and will.

 
Has God been convicting you of a change? Have you been straddling the fence with a list of reasons why it’s ok to do so? Do you have children or loved ones watching you? (Of course you do, whether you realize it or not). The world is watching us, and we’re kind of sucking at the mission here, folks. Either we want to follow Him or we don’t. Often we’re like Lot’s wife, we turn back with longing, unable to give up something good, or even “fun” for something much greater—abundant life, freedom from bondage, true lasting peace, (and maybe even the opportunity for our lives to be the very thing that influences someone to choose eternal life through Jesus!).

 
I no longer want to contribute to this problem but I can’t make choices for anyone else other than myself. One day I hope my daughter will be able to say with conviction that her mother stood for something, and had a purpose—mainly to share the love of Christ with others through her life. That her mother not only said she believed something, but demonstrated that belief through her choices. That her mother wasn’t perfect, but admitted quickly when she was wrong and asked for forgiveness. That her mother was honest about her struggles, and didn’t take pleasure in pointing out the wrongness in everyone else, but rather chose to seek God’s change in her own life. That is what I hope my daughter will say about me some day. One thing I know I don’t want to hear, “My mom, she said she believed and she took me to church, but during the week, she wasn’t any different than anyone else. I don’t understand what good her faith really did.” Or perhaps even worse, “My mom was always talking about what was wrong with everyone. She couldn’t drive to the grocery store without complaining about all the awfulness in everyone else. Everyone was going to hell, according to her. She seemed to think she had it all together, but she was the only one who couldn’t see herself as she really was.” I can’t think of which scenario terrifies me more.

 
God, help me avoid both extremes and find balance within your grace. Let my life be something my daughter wants to emulate, not because she admires me, but because she wants to emulate You, who she sees in me.

 
Be careful how long you choose to sit on that fence, the wedgie gets worse the longer you let it go on, and the results are far more painful for both you and the ones you love most. Choose today who you will serve, and pray for the will to do it with all your heart, mind, and soul.

 

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and truth. This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence.” (1 John 3:18-19, NIV)

“With my whole heart have I sought You; Oh, let me not wander from your commandments! (Psalm 119:10, NKJV)

“Make me walk along the paths of your commands, for that is where my happiness is found.” (Psalm 119:35, NLT)

 

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See also CHOICES PART 1: Freedom to Choose

 
I will be continuing this series on choices in much greater detail, if you haven’t already, please enter your email under the “Follow” tab to receive new posts in your inbox. No spam! Just new posts, (usually two to four posts a month at most). If you found this website to be of encouragement to you, please share it with your friends!

CHOICES {PART 1}: Freedom to Choose

CHOICES {PART 1}: Freedom to Choose

“Make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.”—Romans 14:13 NIV

There’s a saying floating around the internet, I’m not sure where it originated but it speaks truth in volumes for so few words, it goes something like:

“We have the freedom to choose, but not the freedom to choose the consequences of those choices.”

Growing up I wasn’t allowed to make many choices, it was just a matter of doing what my parents told me to do because either “The Bible says so” or “I’m your parent and I say so”. Neither of those answers pleased me much, nevertheless, I complied. I was afraid of the consequences of not complying. I was afraid of the belt, afraid of my parent’s disapproval. So, out of fear (not freedom) I obeyed. However, once I turned sixteen, I began to realize my parents had less control over my choices, and I could get away with a lot of things without them knowing (I had my own job and car, and with that came some added “freedoms”). Of course, as a sixteen year old with raging hormones, not many, if any, of my choices were well thought out.

It didn’t take more than a few “bad” choices before I became overwhelmed with shame, a real “failure” as a Christian. No longer was I the compliant, obedient “good girl”, but the rebellious, self-centered “prodigal”. Instead of repentance, my shame led me farther into the pit of stupidity, until nearly a decade later when I found myself pregnant, living in a shack of a home (no running water, windows broken out, roof falling apart…etc.) with my boyfriend. When sharing my testimony I often start with this scene because that is what God used to catapult a major life change in me.

Did I want my daughter to grow up with an eating disorder? Did I want her having sex with whomever she pleased on any given day? Did I want her contracting STDs? Did I want her growing up so insecure she felt the only answer was to take a blade and cut her body? Did I want her to decide one day that suicide was the only reasonable choice? Did I want her to turn to drugs to ease her pain? Did I want her turning out like me? Did I want her spending an eternity separated from God because I never taught her the truth about Him? The answer to those questions was a resounding, NO!

I knew if there was any hope for my daughter, I was in fact the one who needed to change. I knew she would follow my example, and that is the last thing I wanted. So, over the years following, God changed my heart one issue at a time. However, despite having a change of heart and re-committing my life to following God, I still continued to make dumb choices (and still do). Some of these choices have had catastrophic consequences (more on that will be discussed in later posts). It really is a miracle that, despite my ignorance, my husband is now a Christian, and our marriage is stronger than it’s ever been. It very easily could have ended much differently.

One of the things I struggle with is an eating disorder (began 16 years ago) and intense insecurity. Understanding who I am in Christ has gone a long way in helping with those issues, nevertheless, I still struggle. One of the things that triggers anxiety and temptation to revert back to the eating disorder is wearing revealing or tight clothes. The insecurity is so intense, that despite living in Arizona where the summers often reach 120 degrees, I wear pants all the time (unless I am swimming, which I will only do in the presence of good, trusted friends, and even then, I wear shorts). I usually wear baggy t-shirts as well. I hate the feeling of clothes on my skin. (It’s hard to explain or understand unless you’ve had an eating disorder).

I’ve prayed about this issue repeatedly, as it gets to be quite tiresome dealing with such emotions and anxiety (even something as simple as eating a meal can turn into an emotional ordeal if I let my focus shift from the truth of God’s word). The Holy Spirit produced and answer that, after careful contemplation (asking the questions near the end of this post), I decided to implement. Dress differently. Novel concept, I know. For me, that meant wearing long, modest skirts instead of jeans, shorts, or pants.

Now, some of you may be thinking, “Great, another ultra conservative nut-job who thinks it’s a sin to wear pants”. Actually, no, that is not the case. I don’t believe God is too concerned with what we are wearing, other than it needs to be modest (not causing a “brother” to stumble). Pants, shorts, whatever, I don’t really care what you wear, that’s between you and God. But for me, the long skirts are a personal conviction that has nothing to do with whether or not is a “sin” for a female to wear pants. So please, no comments about that. (And no, I am not forcing my daughter to wear skirts. I explained why I was chose to do so, and told her she could decide for herself what she wanted to do. My only requirement for her clothing is that it be modest.)

When it comes to making choices, from the clothing we wear, the food we eat, or the type of activities we engage in, we must recognize our freedom to choose while also understanding we do not have the freedom to choose the consequences of those choices.

“’I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but I will not be mastered by anything.”—1 Corinthians 6:12 NIV

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love…For I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”—Galatians 5:13, 16

In a nutshell, we all have free will. God gives us His word to protect us, but it is our choice whether or not to read it and follow it. For many years I chose to ignore it, and for the rest of my life I will have to experience the consequences of my “free will”. I can’t undo the consequences, some of which have deeply affected my family. Our consequences will affect others, either positively or negatively. These days I am erring on the side of caution. For some this may come across as being too “uptight”. But, I know that I am making these choices because of my freedom, not to obtain freedom or acceptance from God or others.

Will we use our freedom to choose to encourage others, help others, love others, and serve others, or will we use it to serve and please ourselves? Coming back to the example of clothing, by choosing to dress modestly, I am accomplishing a few things: first and foremost I am no longer dealing with the anxieties and temptations I dealt with wearing other types of clothing. I am more comfortable and more relaxed. As an added bonus, I am protecting others from “stumbling” by doing my best in covering what needs to be covered and leaving everything to the imagination (as opposed to leaving nothing to the imagination, as it seems the majority of women, even Christians, are doing these days). My body is for my husband, not for anyone else. But again, this is a personal conviction, not a “rule” for everyone to follow. I have peace knowing I am doing all that I can to protect myself from temptation and others as well. I am also setting a good example for my daughter, showing her that she is more than a pretty face or a good body; she should be noticed and appreciated for her character, not her appearance.

While this is just one example, the principles that led to this choice apply to any choice we can make. My dad used to tell me, “When in doubt, do without”. That little phrase has come in handy, especially now that I am committed to following God’s plan for my life. From major choices to seemingly insignificant ones, we can be assured of making the right choice if we:

1) Seek God’s word on the issue first and commit to following his Word (after all, He wants to protect us from the consequences of bad choices, which is why He gave us His word!)
2) Pray about what God would have us do (if this is not already made clear in his word)
3) Ask and answer honestly a few questions about the choice:

●Will it hurt me or anyone else?
●Is there any possibility this choice could be a “stumbling block” to someone else?
●Does this choice encourage me and those around me to think on what is good, lovely, pure, and acceptable (Phil. 4:8)?
●Do I have peace about this choice?
●Am I shining God’s light, love, and truth to the world through this choice?
●Am I making a choice I would want my child (or loved one) to make?

If you have any doubts about your decision, “do without”. In other words, say “no” and trust God has something better in mind for you. Pray for patience and wisdom to make the right choices, the ones that will reap consequences of joy, not sorrow.

 

 

**NOTE: This was not intended to be a post about modesty or clothing; that is simply a recent example from my life I chose to use as an illustration. Please do not feel the need to defend your choice of clothing to me. Truthfully, I don’t care what you choose to wear or do. It really is between you and God. My choice is a personal one, and that’s the extent of it. I am merely sharing my journey and experience as I stumble through life attempting to walk in grace the best I know how.**

 

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I will be continuing this series on choices in much greater detail, if you haven’t already, please enter your email under the “Follow” tab to receive new posts in your inbox. No spam! Just new posts, (usually two to four posts a month at most). If you found this website to be of encouragement to you, please share it with your friends!

Hope in Disguise: How Four Simple Words Can Change Everything

Hope in Disguise:
How Four Simple Words Can Change Everything

“Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them.”—Romans 12:12-13 NLT

If you read my last post (Waiting for Redemption) you know the last year has been a difficult one. But during that time, God has continued to sprinkle little blessings here and there via a couple of special women in my life. The friendship and support they have given me have often served to keep my head above the waves as I’ve attempted to tread water in a deep ocean of uncertainty. So many times I have wanted to give up, but at just the right time, their words, hugs, and even silence, have shot hope through my veins when I’ve needed it most.

 
One of the first things she said to me, shortly after I drug my tired, discouraged self into her home yesterday was, “How is the depression?” Four simple words never spoke so much hope into my life. I know, it doesn’t make sense, after all, how can asking a simple question about depression, of all things, actually bring hope? I don’t really know, but somehow it did. Not at that very moment, but a few hours later.

 
Anyone who has dealt with clinical depression (I have now for over 15 years) knows the feeling. Even the simplest activities of daily life seem overwhelming at times. And if you’re a Christ-follower, you’ve got the added guilt of not being a “good” Christian because you’re not walking around on cloud nine all the time (see How to Live When Depression Lingers). If you have a lot of people in your life who don’t understand what you’re going through, sharing your true feelings can be risky. It’s hard for people to resist trying to give solutions and pat answers to “help” you, when in reality all we really want is someone to listen and meet us where we’re at.

 
Anyways, later that afternoon her words sang through my head, “How is the depression?” I was able to speak to her freely about my struggle, while she nodded in understanding. She knows what it feels like too. And, as much as I hate that she knows what it’s like, I am so grateful for it. None of us want to suffer, but, admittedly if it weren’t for our mutual suffering, none of us could relate to anyone in any tangible way. Our struggles are often how we find those “kindred spirits”, the ones who will hold our hand through our trials, speak truth in love, but also listen at the right time, instead of always being the “problem solver” or “advice giver”.

 
Because of her own struggles with depression and hardship, my friend instinctively knew what I needed—to be listened to and met with grace. She didn’t offer up a bunch of things to do to fix my “problem”. Really, she just listened. And it had an amazingly therapeutic effect.

 
Later that afternoon I sat in my recliner, as I have done so many times over the past months, staring at the wall while warm tears flowed down my face. Only this time, it was because of hope. My friend’s four simple words brought me hope. She cared, she understood, and she wasn’t trying to change me. She was merely loving me in the dark places, and continuing to pray in earnest for my physical and emotional healing. In that moment I was so overwhelmed with thankfulness for the two special friends God brought into my life almost two years ago. We are “sisters” in every way. And it isn’t because we’re perfect Christians, it’s because we’re perfectly flawed Christians who know we can be transparent with each other without fear of judgment, criticism, or cliché advice-giving.

 
If you know someone struggling with depression, please try to avoid offering them “solutions”. Your intentions are amazing and appreciated, but unless you’ve suffered in the same way, you can’t really “know” what it’s like or how to “solve” the problem. Yes, we need to go to and stay in God’s word, and yes we need to focus on the truth and refuse to believe lies. Yes all of these things are true and helpful to the depressed Christian, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it will produce spiritual rainbows and butterflies. Sometimes the depression lingers and sometimes all we really need is someone to listen. You can be a good friend without offering “answers” to every problem. Often, not spewing “answers” is just what your depressed friend may need.

 
In my case, just knowing how loved I am by a couple of flawed friends inspires me to get back up and move forward through the difficulties instead of allowing them to control me, and the prayers of my friends have been the greatest gift, more so than any “advice” they could have given.

 
So, ask God to bring to mind someone in your life who may need to hear four simple words. Maybe it’s not “How is your depression” but some other difficulty, “How is your [insert chronic illness]” or “How is your grief”? Just asking a question and listening patiently to the answer might be all your hurting friend needs to see a ray of hope amid the darkness of their circumstances. Choose to be that source of light in their life. And most importantly, continue to pray for them, even if it seems they aren’t “progressing” quickly enough through their struggles. God is listening, and in due time, He will answer (and quite possibly use YOU to be the answer).

 

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”—Proverbs 13:12 NIV

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If you or someone you know struggles with depression, or is going through difficult life-circumstances, please share this post. Instead of shying away from these “troubled” people, let’s come together and encourage them through the hope of Christ. Let’s be the hope of Christ in their lives.

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Also, I will be starting a new blog series titled “Choices”, and will be sharing more details about my journey over the past year, and how our choices, from the big ones to the seemingly insignificant, can have a lasting (positive or negative) effect on our lives and the lives of those we love most. Please sign up to receive new blog posts in your email and share this blog with your friends. Your support is much appreciated! Thank you!

Waiting For Redemption

 

Waiting for Redemption

I’m not particularly looking forward to sharing what I’m about to share with you. In fact, I’ve been fighting it for some time, which, as you may have noticed, is why I haven’t written anything in a couple of months. But the Holy Spirit keeps pressing so, reluctantly (yeah, I don’t always obey cheerfully, shocker!) I am sharing an extremely difficult journey in hopes that someone else out there will make better choices as a result of reading this, and perhaps, save themselves and their loved ones unnecessary pain, heartache, and grief.

 

 
About four years ago my life was completely different than it is today. I was abusing prescription pain killers; I was also taking other mind-altering prescriptions that left me, as my husband later shared, in a state of what he considered the “crazies”. I was emotionally all over the place but mostly in a deep dark depression that left me suicidal on many occasions.

 

 
At the same time, I was struggling with my faith. I had only “come back” to God two years earlier, and was fumbling through the logistics of how to cope with being in an “unequally yoked” marriage. I harbored a great deal of bitterness and resentment towards my husband as well. But, rather than communicate with him about my struggles, I chose to talk about my problems in somewhat of a venting manner, within the confines of a twelve step program (even in the twelve step program, I continued to abuse the drugs). I had no idea how to cope with the things in my life, not just the present situation but my past choices.

 

 
I vented to anyone and everyone except my husband and received varying degrees of advice. I had some Christians advise me to divorce and start over; after all, God would want me to be happy (that’s a load of crap, by the way). I had a lot of voices whispering in my ear, but the one voice I wasn’t hearing or even looking for was God’s. I didn’t pray about it, I talked to people about it. In turn, I followed human reasoning.

 

 
So, one day I made my decision. I told my husband what I was doing, and that it was my body, I didn’t give a damn about his opinion (what a great Christian influence I was!). I refused to pray about this decision because I knew God’s answer wouldn’t be the same as what the people in my life were giving me. I liked their advice, it suited my purposes better. So, in somewhat of a selfish fit of anger, I stormed off and willingly made my choice.

 

 
This decision was made based on emotions and current circumstances, without any regard for the fact that God is all-powerful, and maybe, just maybe, He could and would change the circumstances, my husband’s heart, or my own heart (which was in desperate need of an overhaul!). I didn’t take any of that into consideration though, and by making the decision I did, I deeply wounded my husband in a way that very well could have ended our marriage.

 

 
Over the next two years I got sober, and discovered what a real relationship with Christ is like (as opposed to the legalistic way I was accustomed to). My heart was changing, and in that change, God gave me a glimpse of what I had done through His eyes. I’ll never forget that moment driving home from church in tears. I felt like Jesus was in the passenger seat with me, it was a presence I had never felt so clearly before. I looked in the rearview mirror and there it was, in an instant, my decision laid before me in all its awfulness. I saw my husband’s hurt for the first time. I have no words to describe it other than sheer mortification over what I had done.

 

 
Over the next year my husband and I talked about what happened for the first time, trying to work through it. Then last year the unexplained medical problems kept coming in waves. We went through thousands in medical bills only to never get a straight answer or diagnosis. During that time, my husband made a decision of his own. He started coming to church and told me he “prayed and something happened”. He had a change of heart and it was more than just a prayer. His whole attitude and demeanor changed. We began communicating with each other in absolute honesty for the first time. Ten years of anger and resentment over all the unspoken “issues” was laid out. Several weeks went by where my husband and I cried with each other and dealt with these things one by one until healing could take place in each area.

 

 
What’s happened in our marriage, in my heart, and now my husband’s heart, is nothing short of a miracle. Many have prayed for him and I over the years, and now these prayers are being answered. To hear my husband say, “I want to be the spiritual leader of this family” is, well, it’s a dream come true! Four years ago, I wouldn’t (and didn’t) believe I would see him change or hear those words spoken in sincerity. I could only see what my immediate surroundings were dishing out, and what my emotions were screaming at me. It’s a dangerous thing to make life-altering decisions in times like those.

 

 
A couple of months ago I finally received an answer to the medical problems that had caused me and my family so much heartache and stress over the past year. It could all be traced back to that choice I made four years ago. Yes, it was all because of that choice, the choice I made.

 

 
And friends, I can’t tell you how that feels in words. I can’t articulate the pain, guilt, and shame from realizing you’ve caused your own pain in such a way. And not just for me, but for my family. The stress and financial burden, the doctors, the prayer requests, and it all came back to that one choice. Of course, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit the words, “This is all your fault” hasn’t swept through my head a few million times over the past eight weeks.

 

 
So, where does that leave me now? I guess I am in a place of waiting. A place of mourning, a place of grief as I realize my child and husband have been irreparably damaged by a stupid choice I made four years ago. That our family is forever changed by it. That my day to day life is changed as I continue to suffer the physical symptoms that will not just magically go away.

 

 
During this time of grief and sorrow, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. I’ve read how God redeems things, and I’ve tried to take hope in that. But honestly, hope wanes most days because in my humanness I can’t fathom how God could redeem this situation nor do I expect Him to. The sad fact is, some of our choices won’t get “redeemed”. Just because we repent does not mean everything is magically fixed with a God sized band-aide.

 

 
So, I’m here to ask you, to plead with you, please please don’t make choices, big or small, in the heat of emotion or in the depths of desperate circumstances. You may think things (or people’s hearts) will never change, but they can.
It may seem like a no-brainer, but just in the last several months I’ve talked to several women who are making terrible choices based on current circumstances. Oh, I can’t tell you how it breaks my heart. One day I know they will grieve those same choices and gnash their teeth in frustration over playing god in their life, instead of stepping aside and trusting and fully surrendering to His perfect plan.

 

 
So, there’s been a lot of crying and wondering if, when, or how God will fix this, understanding He owes me nothing but taking comfort in the fact that He knows my heart. And despite this I am so thankful for the radical change that has come over my marriage. Wow, it’s more than I can comprehend. God is healing our hurts little by little and drawing us closer together every day.
I know I haven’t been specific about what I “did”, but at this point it’s just too painful to talk about. I only share this because I know some of you are feeling overwhelmed by your circumstances, wondering when God will show up and just “fix” stuff or make life easier for a second. While you’re in that time of waiting and wondering, tune out the noise of the people around you and tune in to the Holy Spirit. As hard is it may seem to do what He’s asking, He knows the future, and whatever He leads you in will be for your greatest good. The heartache and grief of choosing to walk in your own way or listen to the advice of people who are content to tell you only what you want to hear instead of what you need to hear will never be worth it.

 

 
As I continue to grieve this loss, I am holding on, if only by the tips of my fingers, that hope is out there somewhere, and God will someday turn this pile of ashes into something meaningful, even if it seems impossible as to how that would come about.

 

 
This post isn’t filled with Scriptures or Christianese, just a simple message from my heart to yours. Choices matter, in our lives and the lives of those we love most. Our choices will affect others. Seek God’s counsel above all else, trust Him, and for crying out loud, listen to Him! Don’t turn back, friends, don’t even look back. Press on, follow Him, and don’t force your will upon His. He’s God, He actually knows what He’s doing. He wants what’s best for you. What I am experiencing now is something God wanted to protect me from. The pain my husband is experiencing is something God wanted to protect him from. The questions and confusion and hurt this has caused my little daughter, is something God wanted to protect her from. . He knew the second I made that choice the ramifications, even though years would pass in the interim. How I wish I had trusted Him!

 

 
And if you’re currently where I’m at, grieving the losses of your choices and watching those around you hurt because of what you’ve done, take heart, Hope is there, it’s just hard to see through the fog of shame and remorse. Eventually the fog lifts. No matter what, don’t give up on your faith making a bad situation even worse. The best thing you can do for your family now is to surrender to Christ 100%, learn from this, and trust Him to bring something good out of it, as He promises to all who love Him and surrender to Him (Romans 8:28).

 

 
Plugging this story into my website is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do, it’s embarrassing to some degree, and painful to open up to others in such a deep and personal way, but I am learning, albeit slowly, to trust God in all things, even in something as mundane as a blog post. So, with that being said, I would love to hear your stories of redemption and hope, if nothing more than to encourage me in my sorrow (yes, it’s true, I don’t always have it all together!). Please share your experiences in the comments or email me @ RebeccaAarup@mail.com

Three Lessons to Take Away from the 2014 Winter Olympics

Three Lessons to Take Away from the 2014 Winter Olympics

 

            Admittedly, I’m an Olympic nerd. I love the drama, the personal stories, the action and intensity of the individual events, and of course, I love rooting for my home country. Normally I tune in to my favorite events, usually whatever is shown on the major networks in prime-time. But this year was different. So far my 2014 has been wrought with more physical nightmares than 2013 delivered. Both my daughter and I contracted a rarer type of flu, one that sent us both to the hospital, one that had us sick for two weeks, and one that eventually gave me pneumonia (which I still have). So, aptly timed, the Olympics aired while I was on bed rest; quite convenient! Having the opportunity to watch not only my favorite events, but all of the events (yes, I even watched Curling!) afforded some great learning opportunities.

 

Shut Up and Own It

           

            After an abysmal performance in Speed Skating, an athlete provided an explanation in an on-camera interview, “I don’t know what it was, but I know it wasn’t me!” Um, ok bud, thank you for clearing up the confusion, because I’m pretty sure I just saw you put up a not-so-stellar time, in more than one race. But it’s ok, it’s not you. It’s the ice, the elevation, or the whacky design on your evidently not so aerodynamic skating suit. But it’s not you. Even worse, this was an American athlete. Not a proud USA moment for me but a clear reflection of how most of society thinks—blame someone else and avoid personal ownership, no matter how ignorant.

            But as much as I want to get down on the guy, I have to admit, I do the same thing. I get defensive about my performance as a Christian, as a wife, or as a mother and I make excuses for my behavior. It’s just easier to heap the blame on someone or something else than it is to own my mistakes, short-comings, or outright blatant meltdowns of maturity. Seeing that interview was like seeing my own reflection. I wanted to judge the guy, but I saw his excuses within my own heart. Maybe there are reasons, circumstances, or outside influences affecting my behavior, but in the end, what I say and do is my own choice. How I perform (behave) is my choice, how I respond to adversity is my choice, how I react to conflict is my choice. It boils down to an attitude and response that either attracts or repels others. Squashing pride, owning our choices, and humbly admitting our faults will attract the right attention (and people) in our lives. Making excuses, blaming everything and everyone, and refusing to take personal responsibility will only serve to show our immaturity and pride, while simultaneously poisoning the relationships in our lives. So, let’s all do each other a favor the next time our attitudes and behavior fall short; let’s shut up and own it, and move on.

Keep a Golden Perspective

 

            Dozens of athletes compete in each Olympic event, but only three walk away with hardware around their necks. Over the last two weeks of competition I’ve seen every range of reaction to a given outcome. Some athletes were overjoyed beyond comprehension just to get on that Olympic podium, they didn’t care what color they got, while others had no trouble hiding their disdain over the color of the medal around their necks (think USA women’s hockey medal ceremony—you would have thought that silver medal was battery acid). By far the attitudes of gratitude spoke volumes more to me than the whiny, it’s-not-good-enough looks of resentment. But again, I find myself looking in the mirror, seeing the reflection of my own heart.

            Truth is (I know, it’ll come as a shock, because we all know I’m perfect…) more often than not I have a spiritual attitude of ingratitude. I compare my circumstances (i.e. what medal I’ve received) and gripe about what the other guy got that I deserved. I studied hard, obeyed a lot, and tithed my paycheck, so why didn’t I get God’s golden favor of physical health and material wealth? But alas, in the real world it simply doesn’t work that way. Christianity is not a vending machine religion, where you dial up a result, put in your coins, and know what you’re going to get. You can do everything “right” and still end up as a widow, a grieving parent, or permanently physically handicapped. Our obedience to God, our choice to follow Him and choose to live from Truth guarantees us nothing (as far as circumstances goes) while we’re walking around on this earth (but it does guarantee a whole heck of a lot in eternity!). No, in this world we will have trouble, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have peace at the same time. That’s the promise of a golden perspective. When we keep our eyes focused on Truth we live and breathe the peace that passes all understanding. That other guy can get the gold medal, we’re fine with the bronze, because we know we’ve been promised much more in a time not too far from now. It’s easy to say but hard to practice, yet maintaining a golden perspective is what will determine how we react to the success of others (as well as our own failures).

 

Well, What Do You Expect?

 

            Don’t even get me started on this issue of unmet expectations. Well I guess I got myself started. Anyways, I could easily be the poster child for this problem, but watching the Olympics reassured me that I’m not alone in the fight. As I listened to the announcers talk about the athletes I was left with an expectation of who was going to come away with the shut-out victory. I mean, the way some of these athletes were discussed, you would have thought everyone else should have just forfeited and handed them the medal. But then the competition would begin and whatever the announcers just said seemed, well, foolish. In some ways, it was humorous as the announcers would be just as shocked as everyone watching. But hey, the unpredictability of the games is part of the excitement. On one hand you’ve got an athlete who can scarce believe their own performance and the gold medal they’ve unexpectedly received, and on the other hand you’ve got a gold medal “favorite” sitting in 4th, 5th, or even 30th place, wallowing in disappointment and “what-ifs”.

            If there’s one thing nearly every conversation about disappointment and despair (“I want to quit!”) has in common, it’s the issue of unmet (and often unrealistic) expectations. Someone didn’t respond to us the way we thought they would (or should), the person we thought was our best friend turned out not to be a friend at all, our financial security was blown out of the water with an unexpected job loss, the happily ever after was cut short by a death…on and on we could go. Like it or not we all have expectations of ourselves and others, and when those expectations aren’t met we get grumpy. There’s a little phrase I learned as a kid, “Give all your expectations to God.” I wish I had paid more attention to it, because it could have saved me a lot of depression, despair, hopelessness, self-loathing, bitterness, resentment, hurt feelings, and lost relationships. Sometimes people won’t treat us the way they should, sometimes we won’t treat others the way we should—it happens. One way to avoid the trap of despair (and self-loathing and self-pity and living life as a victim) is to literally release all our expectations to God. One of my favorite quotes is from Charles Stanley, “Obey God and leave all the consequences to Him.”

We have control only of ourselves, our own choices, and our integrity (that is, whether or not we have integrity). So then, the only thing we can reasonably expect is the unexpected. That doesn’t mean it won’t hurt, it will be easy, or we should stuff our feelings down when things don’t go as planned, it just means we shouldn’t be surprised by it. Whenever we’re struck with feelings of resentment, hurt, despair, feeling like the world is out to get us, etc. it can likely be traced back to an unmet expectation. Like tracing our steps as we search for our lost car keys, we need to trace the pain back to its source and then give that “source” to God. We can try to manipulate others or our circumstances to fit our expectations, but we will never have peace until we relinquish the idea that we have control over anything other than our own free will.

 

Closing Ceremonies

 

            I actually had a longer list than this but I’m tired of typing and you’re probably falling asleep reading. So I’ll end it here. I hope the next time the Olympics rolls around you’ll watch and look for the lessons, because there are many to be found. So, this is Bob Costas bidding you a good night from Sochi…

Alright, it’s just Rebecca, and I bid you a “thanks” for reading, as well as inviting you to share what lessons you may have learned as you watched (or read about) the 2014 Winter Olympics.